It is February 9 and Bill O'Reilly is having a conversation with Jimmy Kimmel. Not quite right. Rewind. It is February 9. There are noises coming from Jimmy Kimmel's face, and Bill O'Reilly is briefly acknowledging them. Closer. There is no truth in the universe; there are only presidents and terrorists and Bill O'Reilly. Better.
O'Reilly is talking at Kimmel about Brian Williams, the NBC anchor who recently admitted to having fabricated a story about his helicopter getting hit with an RPG while reporting on the Iraq War in 2003. Williams has dramatically recounted this story on multiple occasions.
"I can see, when you come on a show like Kimmel, or any of the late-night shows, you don't wanna be a DWEEB," O'Reilly says.
Bill O'Reilly's DWEEB has 18 B's on it. His DWEEB is its own paragraph. He is shoving DWEEB's head in the toilet and taking one bite of its sandwich and throwing the rest in the trash as the word leaves his mouth. There is no place in O'Reilly's America for "dweebs" or "fags" or "vegetarians." America was built on greasy-palmed men riding in tanks and getting hand jobs in the backseats of Cadillacs. He won't tolerate anything less. This country won't tolerate anything less, won't tolerate haters, won't tolerate resistance of any kind, not from liars or women or foreign countries or the one extra button you have to press at the ATM to have instructions shown in English.
His every thought seems like it is careening toward a GODDAMMIT and a brick through a window. He is a trumpeting rallying cry for the deranged, for the heckling mutants in SUVs, for an America that doesn't need a man who's right but one who doesn't care if he's right. Because if you never have to be right, all you have to do is pretend; everything can be noise, a neon billboard, a big suspender snap and a long motherfucker of a drag from a cigar. He is the specific brand of American defiance where there is no folding, only re-raising. In America you don't make retractions, you fight for the lie on which your huckstering, pull-my-finger sham of a career is predicated. You don't resolve, you don't contemplate, you are smashing beer bottles and asking who wants a piece of you and peeling out of the fucking parking lot.
Bill O'Reilly is rubbing the back of the anti-intellectual right wing that is comforted simply to be in the room with someone who seems marginally more enlightened than they are. "Come with me, children," he is saying. He is a parent showing you on Christmas morning the half-eaten chocolate chip cookie and telling you that Santa was here, that the reindeer were here too; that texting is ruining America, kids don't clean their rooms any more, and "terror savages" are knocking at our door. The difference is that you believe it, and he maybe believes it too, or maybe not, who cares, really? It's not about what he's saying but about his conviction, how airtight his belief seems in these half-truths. The difference between myth and bullshit is volume.
A week ago, a report in Mother Jones alleged that O'Reilly's death-defying account of his experience covering the Falklands War was nothing more than a dick-swinging tree-house fantasy. He said he nearly died of a heart attack in the center of a violent mob. Video recordings show only a single man punching the side of a car.
He has said this about his time covering combat: "I've been there. That's really what separates me from most of these other bloviators. I bloviate, but I bloviate about stuff I've seen. They bloviate about stuff that they haven't."
And still, none of this matters, really. O'Reilly is invincible. His ratings have skyrocketed since the controversy began. There is no "scandal," because it was always a scandal, a hoax, this make-believe America where John Fogerty is blasting through the clouds and Honest Men are on the front lines and Mickey Mantle is rounding the bases in slow motion. Bill O'Reilly is a pestilence to reason, an objection to the concept of critical analysis. He is the spirit child of the segment of America that won't stand for nuance or patience.
He's not playing chess; he's not even playing checkers. He is a man who delights in knocking over a Jenga tower in the middle of someone else's game, because what kind of game is Jenga, even? I bet it's European. He is a menace, a cultural malignancy, your uncle's racist Facebook status, the king of the Costco book table, a self-aggrandizing carnival barker, a man who has confused honesty with recklessness, with not giving a fuck.
He is the Venn diagram intersection of Men's Wearhouse and the Cheesecake Factory.
His sex fantasies allegedly involve filling a woman with wine and rubbing her stomach with a loofah mit. He is a man so square he called Billy Joel a "hoodlum." He is a can of condensed chicken broth. He is reduced-fat mayonnaise. He is the Venn diagram intersection of Men's Wearhouse and the Cheesecake Factory.
Who O'Reilly actually is, how much of his persona and ideals have been twisted for the sake of showmanship and ratings, means almost nothing. He is a referendum on the taste of the populous—our need to believe that there are Good Guys and there are Bad Guys and nothing in between. That the enemy is right over this hill, and the only way to stop them is through brute force and solemn "we won't stand for this" from atop a pile of rubble with six firefighters standing next to us and a flag blowing behind them. Grudges against him and his ideals are "jihads"; his opposition doesn't object, it "demonizes." People who don't believe in God are "militant secularists." We must "confront evil" and launch "holy wars" and put "boots on the ground to eradicate this cancer of ISIS and radical Islam before it destroys us."
He is a fraud, the guy at the bar trying to show you a card trick. He is not the Godfather, he is the thug wrapping the corpse of some half-baked segment in a piece of carpet and tossing it into the river. He is saying that you can accomplish anything you want if you just Be All That You Can Be. It's that easy. He is counting talking points on his fingers, speaking in short sentences, enunciating like he's speaking to a toddler, telling people to shut up, telling people it's Merry Christmas, not Happy Holidays, and for another thing the immigrants are taking your jobs, can't you see it? He is the irresistible idea of FEELINGS > facts. Because feeling is easy, feeling is an impulse, feelings are from your balls, and everyone has balls, right? You're not some kind of pussy, are you? He is telling stories to wide-eyed women about his high school athletic career, how his dad had a nothing job making no money in a nothing town but he made it. Bill O'Reilly started from the bottom and now he's here, cackling at your minuscule 401(k), you pathetic little rodent.***
Sitting next to Kimmel, O'Reilly says this: "The internet, and you know what it is, it's a sewer. And these people delight in seeing these famous people being taken apart. And I just think it's wrong." He turns from Kimmel, he is looking at the audience now, and then directly into the camera, at us, at Democracy, at every blue-blooded man who has ever lived, really. He wants your donations, not in money but in TRUST and AFFECTION, in a loyalty he can peddle to advertisers. He is talking about "famous people," he is talking about Kimmel, and Williams, and America itself, the most delicate celebrity of all. But really he is talking about Bill O'Reilly.
"We're human beings just like everyone else. Yeah, Kimmel makes a lot of money, not me so much, but so what—this is America. We've earned it."